Written by Natasha Ponda.
Passion, excitement, roaring fans, and unwavering loyalty – in summation, this is the agony and ecstasy of any sport.
With this sentiment, Kellen Hatanaka’s current show, Home | Safe, navigates the pride and pain of a minority group at the forefront of a mainstream, nationally-recognized sport. During a time when Japanese Canadians faced overt racism, the Vancouver Asahi Baseball Team demonstrated dominance on the field and inspired the general public to view them as equals.
At the Nikkei Cultural Centre, Hatanaka’s work transforms the gallery into a sports arena, where larger-than-life baseball players occupy centre-stage. And the walls circling them have poster-shaped works that mimic crowds of sign-boards watching their heroes in action.
The artwork on each poster exudes excitement and kinetic force. It shows baseball through distinctly Japanese illustrations of movement. Conveying fantastical perceptions of exertion and physical force reminiscent of drawing styles found in manga and anime.
The composition and content also speaks to Japanese Canadian hybridity where commercial and pop culture iconography of the west blends with traditional, culturally Japanese objects. Like where symbols in the Japanese flag overlap with the physical design of a baseball diamond.
With concise execution, the admirability of Home | Safe is Hatanaka’s ability to call into question a troubled history yet still preserve a sense of dignity with colourful imagery uplifted by Asahi team pride.